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Nvidia updates closed-source drivers for open-source OSes

When Nvidia began selling its new GeForce 7800 graphics cards this week, it updated the driver software necessary for open-source operating systems to use the new hardware. The company released drivers for Linux on 32-bit and 64-bit x86 chips such as AMD's Athlon and Intel's Xeon; Linux on Intel's Itanium; and FreeBSD on 32-bit x86 chips.

However, an operating system that's not supported is Sun's Solaris, newly released this month as an open-source operating system. Nvidia provides Solaris drivers for its workstation-oriented graphics cards through an agreement signed in 2004, but it doesn't support game-oriented cards such as the 7800 products.

Nvidia supplies executable drivers only, not the source code that underlies the software. That means that programmers can't adapt the software on their own for other systems, such as Linux on Power processors or OpenSolaris.

Nvidia provides prompt support for Linux--the same day as it supported Windows in the case of this week's products, said Andrew Fear, Nvidia's software product manager. But the company doesn't want to release the source code for several reasons.

"There's a lot of intellectual property that goes into our driver arch. If we open-source it, we're losing one of our strategic advantages," Fear said. And the company is worried that someone, upon seeing the source code, would "claim some sort of patent (infringement and) tie it up in court."

Nvidia releases a driver configuration utility as open-source software. That utility selects the correct and latest version of a driver based on the details of a person's computer configuration.